Museum Adventures: Mount Holyoke College Art Museum

Look, Learn, Explore: Family Fun at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum!

Photograph by Laura Shea.

Going to an art museum can feel like an adventure, a chance to travel back in time through encounters with objects from faraway cultures. Many museums also give you the chance to unlock the magic of learning about your own local history and stories from closer to home.

In both cases, looking at art and material culture gives parents and children an opportunity to make discoveries together and create shared experiences. Here are some tips used by museum educators that can easily be used by family visitors as well.

  • Don’t be overly ambitious about seeing everything. Instead, select a few intriguing works you are attracted to, want to learn more about, or even find puzzling. Or you may want to find something in a tucked away corner that feels like a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered.
  • Once you hone in on your first object, take a few moments to look at it closely and have everyone share their initial observations. What is your first reaction?
  • Try looking first from a distance to get an overview, and then come up closer to see the details. What did you notice when you come up close that you couldn’t see from a distance? There is almost always more than first meets the eye!
  • Trying to figure out the story being told in images with people can spark some great conversations, too. What are the visual clues the artist gives you?  Clothing, accessories, facial expressions, hand and body gestures, and the background setting combine to create layers of information to unfold.

If you’re interested in trying out this method of looking at art, check out MHCAM’s new Look and Learn self-guided tour, which provides close-looking prompts and information for five fabulous works of art that will help you and your family deeply engage with some objects on view.

You can also try Art Seeks, which are regularly updated to incorporate a variety of works you’ll find throughout the galleries. These are thematic scavenger hunts — such as Animals and Funny Faces — that include fun facts about the art for kids of all ages.

You can find printable pdfs of each of these activities under Visitor and Family Resources  on the Museum’s newly redesigned website as well as collection highlights, upcoming events, how to get involved, and more!

Starting this month, there will be some wonderful new exhibitions on view for families to “discover” as well as a new thematic tour series led by college students. These exciting tours are inspired by the students’ personal interests and provide visitors with new ways of looking at works of art from MHCAM’s encyclopedic collection.


Spring 2016 Exhibitions

Opening on January 19, a visually stunning new exhibition, Dancers of the Nightway: Ceremonial Imagery in Navajo Weaving, will feature 17 large Navajo weavings, a group of carved Yeibichai dance figures, and seven Edward Curtis photographs. The beautiful weavings depict colorful imagery related to the Nightway ceremony and are rarely shown to the public.

Also on view through May 29, Fragile Paper Timeships: Photographs by Joel Meyerowitz, 1979-1989, features 33 photographs that warm the gallery with images of summer. A master of color photography for more than four decades, Meyerowitz catches fleeting sensations in his images, like the vibrations of the horizon line or sunlight electrifying a mop of red curls, transporting viewers to zones of color and light.

NEW Sightlines Tour Series

Offered on select Saturdays at 1:30 pm. Don’t miss the first two of the new year!

Saturday, January 30 at 1:30 pm
The Artist’s Perspective
Chrissy Barney ’16
On this tour, visitors will have a chance to explore a range of art from different places and time periods, learning about how the art was made as well as the unique perspective of the artists themselves. Highlights will range from a 13th century Persian ceramic jar and a detailed Dutch oil painting to several contemporary works of art.

Saturday, February 13 at 1:30 pm
Visualizing the Sacred
Kristina Bush ’17
This tour draws connections between different cultures’ depictions of sacred figures. Learn about the interesting visual traditions of various religious groups, including not only Christianity and Buddhism, but also other lesser-known spiritual traditions.


Find out more about these exhibitions, tours, and other exciting events, by visiting and see why MHCAM is a gem in the Valley.


Ellen Alvord
Ellen Alvord is the Weatherbie Curator of Education and Academic Programs at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. Ellen manages and develops the Museum’s Teaching with Art program for both academic and community audiences. She serves as a liaison to faculty, actively encourages collaborations with campus and community partners, and promotes object-based learning across disciplines. She holds an M.A.Ed from the College of William and Mary and a B.A. from Mount Holyoke.

Kendra Weisbin
Kendra Weisbin is the Assistant Curator of Education at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. Kendra facilitates the use of the Museum and its collections by faculty and students, as well as K-12 educators, and acts as the coordinator of the Museum’s Student Guide Program. Kendra’s background is in Islamic art, and she holds an M.A. from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a B.A. from Oberlin College.

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